Since 2002, the character of Spider-Man has certainly had a rich history on the big screen. As one of the most iconic comic book superheroes of all time, that’s no surprise. Spider-Man: No Way Home is the ninth theatrically released film based on the titular hero, and we already know that more are on the way. Is the latest in Spidey’s big screen adventures and the newest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe just as great as some of his other movie appearances, or does seeing Spider-Man in movies feel old and tired at this point? Let’s take a closer look at all the action, drama, and web-slinging to find out.
Spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home lurk ahead.
One major issue so far with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is that he’s been treated like a sidekick to Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers and as a side character in the MCU overall. Thankfully, No Way Home actually feels like it’s his story, and he’s finally treated like his own main character. Sure, Doctor Strange and the previous Spider-Man actors all have a strong presence, but it never feels like it’s more about another character than Tom Holland’s Peter Parker. It’s nice to see MArvel’s most iconic character get the respect and attention he deserves.
Since this is a comic book superhero movie, it’s reasonable to expect tons of action, and boy does this film deliver. Not only is the action incredibly entertaining and thrilling throughout the movie, but the action never feels repetitive. Each fight scene focuses on something that changes up the feel of the battles. For instance, there are fights featuring the typical high-flying Spider-Man fun with webs being shot and flips through the air, but there are also darker, grittier hand-to-hand fights where Spidey and Green Goblin ruthlessly beat each other. After so many Spider-Man movies, it’s nice that the action can still feel so new and exciting.
No Way Home features one of the most emotional stories we’ve ever seen in a Spider-Man movie. There are scenes that are absolutely gut-wrenching. It’s impossible to not feel horrible for Peter and what he’s going through. It’s rare to see a beloved character experience so much loss at once, and have it work in a single movie. There are certain moments throughout where there’s no dry eye in the theater.
Just about every performance is outstanding. Marisa Tomei absolutely kills it as May, especially during the more emotional scenes. Tom Holland proves how talented he can be with both the comedic scenes and the surprisingly dramatic ones. However, it’s Willem Dafoe who completely steals the show. His performance as Green Goblin/Norman Osborn is somehow even better than when he played him in 2002. His laugh and grin while getting beat up are haunting. With this one performance, he manages to pull off being someone who is level-headed, a maniac, and a sympathetic helpless person. It’s genuinely unfortunate that we won’t see him in this role again any time soon.
It’s not unusual for a superhero movie to feature themes of morality, but it’s done especially well here. Throughout the film, Peter questions what the right path is to take. Do criminals need to die or be punished, or should they be helped regardless of what terrible acts they’ve committed? May goes to great lengths to ensure the right thing is done no matter what. Peter discovers that helping and “fixing” these baddies is much more humane and heroic than taking the quick and easy way out. This is extremely powerful to see, reflects on the usual “with great power comes great responsibility” lesson in Spider-Man movies, and shows how much Peter has matured as a character. What’s just as powerful is that there’s also a spotlight on how people shouldn’t look at those with mental illnesses as bad people, but people who may need help.
Character development is vital to storytelling. Usually, it’s just the protagonist who receives it. In No Way Home, however, several characters receive necessary development. Peter grows quite a lot as a character, but so do May and quite a few of Spidey’s enemies. It’s nice to see so many characters grow and learn without it never feeling like too much.
With the development that several characters receive and certain events that take place, there are many stories that continue from previous movies and even come to a satisfying conclusion after several years. Doctor Octopus’ arc continues after not seeing him in a movie in about two decades where he finally becomes one with the mechanical arms and can control them. Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man gets to redeem a very major past mistake. The payoff is more than satisfying when moments like these happen throughout. It’s like those of us who have been watching for so long are being rewarded for doing so.
The humor used throughout the movie is tons of fun to experience. The typical Marvel humor is present, but there are different forms of humor used throughout to help it stand above many other MCU films. With this many Spider-Men in one movie, there’s plenty of sarcastic quips being thrown around like you’d expect. Of course, there are quite a few memes referenced, which can always be a lot of fun. The most unexpected humor used in the movie would be awkward humor where characters don’t know what to say or do. It’s certainly niche, but it never fails to make audiences laugh when done well.
Much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe can be rather predictable and follows a certain safe formula. No Way Home, however, is easily one of the boldest films in the franchise. There are genuine surprises throughout the movie that no one would expect from Marvel. There are also moments that are much darker than other MCU movies, which lead to further unpredictability. These jaw-dropping moments are pretty refreshing considering how formulaic most of the MCU is. It’s also one of the only Marvel movies to end on a rather somber note where inappropriately-placed humor doesn’t distract from the emotion and everyone doesn’t assume time travel will just fix everything.
No Way Home may actually feel like Spider-Man’s story unlike his previous MCU appearances, but he’s still being used as a plot device for other characters. This film heavily exists just to set up the next Doctor Strange movie. There are still moments of fan service where the previous Spider-Man actors and characters steal some of his spotlight. Thankfully, it does appear that the future of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man will focus on stories that completely belong to him.
While most of the special effects look fine, some of the CGI is pretty hard to look at. Once again, the Iron Spider suit looks like it was copied and pasted straight from an old PS1 game. It looks so animated that it breaks immersion when it’s on screen. One would think that companies as big as Marvel, Disney, and Sony would be able to afford some seamless CGI by now.
There are moments here and there where Doctor Strange feels out of character. We see Doctor Strange make irresponsible decisions, act and speak aggressively toward a kid, and be a little too okay with killing people who could be helped. It seems unlike him to be so aggressive toward his allies or to be so reckless with his magic. It feels like Marvel wanted to use him as a red herring so no one would figure out that the movie was actually a crossover between all of the Spider-Man actors, but it just made the character feel a little off instead.
This movie is undoubtedly great, but it relies a little too heavily on the audience seeing quite a few previous movies, some of which aren’t even technically Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, and leaves several questions to be answered in future films, preventing it from being a true standalone story. If you’ve watched the previous Spider-Man films and are caught up on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you’re definitely sure to enjoy yourself, otherwise you might be a bit confused.
Some of these unanswered questions have opened up a few plot holes, like how Aunt May was hanging out with Spider-Man for no reason since she doesn’t remember her nephew, Tony Stark wouldn;t have known Spider-Man’s identity and wouldn’t have been able to recruit him to his side during the Civil War, and Mysterio’s video that the press has blatantly says that Peter is Spider-Man so anyone could just watch it to undo the effects of Doctor Strange’s final spell. Some of these plot holes could theoretically be explained away in future installments, though.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is an extraordinarily fun thrill ride with big laughs, heartfelt emotion, outstanding performances and character development, a perfect amount of fan service, and a brilliant theme about questioning one’s sense of morality. It’s also bolder and more unpredictable than most other films in the MCU’s lineup. It’s certainly not without its flaws, but it’s hugely entertaining and successfully balances everything it sets off to do. Spider-Man: No Way Home is guaranteed to make just about any comic book fan happy.